What you are seeing are some of the earliest flowers of spring, the flowers of Acer rubrum and Acer saccharinum. Acer rubrum = red maple. Acer saccharinum = silver maple.
To give you an idea of the timing of the annual red and silver maple flower drops, where I live the crocus are nearly done flowering. The daffodils have been going strong several days, my forsythia just a couple days and today I noticed the first magnolia just starting to break bud.
|Red maple flower.|
Of course the answer is yes, maple trees do indeed flower. The flowers are tiny compared to the massive trees and aren't very noticeable until they fall to the ground. While red and silver maple flowers are red, flowers of the sugar maple we primarily tap for syrup are a bright, almost lime green. That may start to sound familiar to you now. You've probably noticed clumps of red or green maple flowers lying on your car hood or sidewalk in spring, or blown to the edge of the driveway. Reds and silvers are the first to flower.
|Silver maple flowers.|
To a botanist, those helicopters are actually called keys or samara. (I won't judge if you still want to call them helicopters.) Technically, the seed is only the oblong brown seed coat and its contents at the heavy end of the double samara. The whole unit is the maple tree's fruiting body, but again, you can refer to the whole thing a seed we'll know what you mean.
|Not-yet-flowered buds of a sugar maple |
(Acer saccharum) in our front yard.
As nature begins to wake up from the long winter, it's satisfying to look down and notice the details — the greening grass at our feet, the emerging wild leeks, the narcissus and tulips in our flowerbeds. I also encourage you to look up. See the tree buds swelling, various species beginning to flower, and the red and silver maples just beginning to produce their fruit now that they're dropping their diminutive flowers.